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Korby's Connections: Take me out to a ball game

Do you remember the first Minnesota Twins game you attended in person? I sure do. The Washington Senators moved their major league baseball franchise from Washington, D.C. to Metropolitan Stadium in 1961. It was also the first year the Vikings became an NFL franchise. Met stadium was located in Bloomington, a Minneapolis suburb. Back then, there was no interstate highway between Duluth and the Twin Cities area.

My uncle and aunt, Clifford and Helen Johnson, took my sister, Jan, and me to a Twins game against the Baltimore Orioles — a doubleheader — in 1966. I was 11, my sister was 10. Helen was my mom’s only sister, and she and Cliff did not have kids of their own. Both passed away many years ago. Helen and Cliff had numerous nieces and nephews and loved and babied them all.

Being it was nearly 60 years ago, I had to rely on baseball statistics to refresh my recollection of the results of the two games. MLB statistics never fail to amaze me. The Twins split the doubleheader, winning one and losing one. The Orioles went on to win the 1966 World Series by sweeping the Los Angeles Dodgers. The year before, the Dodgers had beaten the Twins in seven games in the World Series. The Twins were American League runners-up in 1966.

Baltimore was led by a newly acquired outfielder: league MVP and triple crown winner Frank Robinson. The Twins stars were steered by my hero, Harmon Killebrew, and Tony Oliva, Earl Battey, Zoilo Versalles and Jim Kaat. Killebrew, Oliva and Kaat have been immortalized in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Killebrew didn’t disappoint me or my aunt, also a Killebrew nut, by hitting two home runs in the afternoon and evening game doubleheader.

As important as baseball was to me, it’s other things from the trip that left a larger imprint on my memories. First, we were going to be staying overnight in a motel. I had never done that. I got to take a bath in a bathtub rather than a sauna. But I shared a bed with Uncle Clifford. My sister slept with my aunt. I remember being a little nervous, wondering if he kicked, had dreams, or snored. After all, he had been part of the D-Day invasion of Europe when he was in the Army in World War II.

We visited the Foshay Tower and went to the top. It was 32 stories and the tallest building in the Midwest. It held that title until 1972, when the IDS building was completed. We visited the international airport near the stadium to watch big planes land and take off. We roamed around a bit at a mall.

The entire trip was a thrill. Both Helen and Clifford were big Twins fans and made the long journey several times a season. My sister and I couldn’t thank them enough.

My grandson, who just turned 7, was recently chosen as an honorary bat boy and had an opportunity to attend a Twins game.

I thought of his recent visit compared to my 1966 Twins game outing.

His dad could take pictures of him in the pregame activities and send them instantly to his grandparents and uncle. No pictures of my visit.

His game ticket was on his mom’s phone, I had to wait in line.

He can watch the Twins every evening on cable TV. We had to hold up transistor pocket radios to our ears to hear game play-by-play or read the morning newspapers to see pictures of what our heroes looked like.

After Covid, player and fan interaction is now limited. In the 1960s, if fans arrived early enough before the game, they could watch batting practice and possibly have a conversation with some of their heroes. Wise kids, probably regular visitors, knew where to get player autographs. My grandson had a special deal, so was able to get some autographs. It is now typically very difficult to talk to players.

Of course, players’ salaries have greatly changed. Back then, Harmon Killebrew was, by far, the highest paid Twins player, at $100,000 annually. He had to sell used cars in the off-season to help his family make ends meet. Now, the minimum baseball salary is about $5 million per year. Today’s players should be grateful to Cardinals center fielder Curt Flood, who fought the reserve clause and subsequently initiated free agency in 1967. It increased salaries tremendously and let players test the free agency market. Players were usually stuck, prior to the court decision, with the same team and often not by choice.

But what hasn’t changed much? First, the beautiful manicured, green, freshly cut grass of the infield and outfield. It’s easy to forget the stale atmosphere that was the Metrodome between games at the Met and now Target Field.

The smells of the ballpark where popcorn, hot dogs, and peanuts are still a staple. Singing the national anthem and the seventh-inning stretch “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” The crack of the bat and the crowd erupting after a Twins home run. Still happens.

Can’t cheer for Killebrew and Oliva, but now the Twins have exciting Royce Lewis, Carlos Correa and Byron Buxton. Twins games are memorable. Get out and go, and bring some kids with you. They’ll likely never forget it. I haven’t.

Steve Korby’s interest in writing goes back to when he was in fourth grade and editor of the Scan-Satellite school newspaper in Scanlon. He welcomes ideas for human interest stories and tales regarding Carlton County residents, projects, history, and plans c/o [email protected].